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HTPC enthusiasts are often concerned about the quality of pictures output by the system. While this is a very subjective metric, we have decided to take as much of an objective approach as possible. Starting with our HTPC reviews, we have been using the HQV 2.0 benchmark for this purpose. The HQV benchmarking procedure has been heavily promoted by AMD, but it is something NVIDIA says it doesn't optimize for. Considering the fact that there aren't any other standardized options available to evaluate the video post processing capabilities of the GPUs, we feel that HQV benchmarking should be an integral part of the reviews.

However, HQV scores need to be taken with a grain of salt. In particular, one must check the tests where the GPU lost out points. In case those tests don't reflect the reader's usage scenario, the handicap can probably be ignored. An example is cadence detection. Only interlaced streams with non-native frame rates (i.e, 24p content at 60i, 25p content at 50i etc.) need this post processing. Even within this, it is streams requiring 3:2 cadence detection that are most common. Streams with 2:3:3:2 and other fancy patterns are almost non-existent in most usage scenarios. So, it is essential that the scores for each test be compared, rather than just the total value.

The HQV 2.0 test suite consists of 39 different streams divided into 4 different classes. In our HTPC(s), we use Cyberlink PowerDVD 11 with TrueTheater disabled and hardware acceleration enabled for playing back the HQV streams. The playback device is assigned scores for each, depending on how well it plays the stream. Each test was repeated multiple times to ensure that the correct score was assigned. The scoring details are available in the testing guide from HQV.

In the table below, we indicate the maximum score possible for each test, and how much each GPU was able to get. The NVIDIA GPUs were tested with driver version 270.61 and the AMD GPUs were tested with Catalyst 11.5.

 
HQV 2.0 Benchmark Shootout
Test Class Chapter Tests Max. Score NVIDIA GT 430 MSI GT 520 AMD 6450 Sapphire 6570 MSI 6450
Video Conversion Video Resolution Dial 5 5 4 5 5 4
Dial with Static Pattern 5 5 5 5 5 5
Gray Bars 5 5 3 5 5 5
Violin 5 5 3 3 5 3
Film Resolution Stadium 2:2 5 5 0 5 5 5
Stadium 3:2 5 5 5 5 5 5
Overlay On Film Horizontal Text Scroll 5 5 5 5 5 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5 5 5 5 5 5
Cadence Response Time Transition to 3:2 Lock 5 5 5 5 5 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 5 5 0 5 5 5
Multi-Cadence 2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 0 5 5 5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 0 5 5 5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FPS Vari-Speed 5 5 0 5 5 5
5:5 12 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
6:4 12 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
8:7 8 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
Color Upsampling Errors Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP) 5 5 5 5 5 5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE) 5 5 5 5 5 5
Noise and Artifact Reduction Random Noise SailBoat 5 5 5 5 5 0
Flower 5 5 5 5 5 0
Sunrise 5 5 5 5 5 0
Harbour Night 5 5 5 5 5 0
Compression Artifacts Scrolling Text 5 5 3 3 5 0
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 5 0
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 5 0
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3 0
Upscaled Compression Artifacts Text Pattern 5 3 3 3 3 0
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 3 0
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 3 0
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3 0
Image Scaling and Enhancements Scaling and Filtering Luminance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5 5
Chrominance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5 5
Vanishing Text 5 5 5 5 5 5
Resolution Enhancement Brook, Mountain, Flower, Hair, Wood 15 15 15 15 15 15
Video Conversion Contrast Enhancement Theme Park 5 5 5 5 5 5
Driftwood 5 5 5 5 5 5
Beach at Dusk 5 5 5 5 5 5
White and Black Cats 5 5 5 5 5 5
Skin Tone Correction Skin Tones 10 7 7 7 7 7
                 
    Total Score 210 193 146 189 197 144

A look at the above table reveals that there is not much to differentiate between the AMD 6450, GT 430 and 6570. The GT 430 scores in between the 6450 and 6570. However, the GT 520 and the DDR3 based MSI 6450 stand out because of their low scores.

In our GT 430 review last October, we were willing to give it some leeway because it lost out in the bulk of the cadence detection tests. The GT 520 is in a similar situation here. The all-important 3:2 pulldown is performed correctly. However, none of the other cadence detection tests passed. GT 520 also has other issues in general which cause it to get a lower score than what the GT 430 obtained in its initial review. We will take a look at how the GT 520 fares in the other tests before delivering the final verdict.

The DDR3 based 6450 misses out on the bulk of the scores because it is unable to perform denoising in a proper manner. When AMD was contacted about this, they admitted the issue and indicated that they were working on a fix. However, they pointed out that the problem was only for standalone files and not Blu-ray discs. To our surprise, we found that denoising worked properly in PowerDVD irrespective of ESVP when the HQV Benchmark Blu-ray was used! We decided not to let that alter the scores above. Blu-rays are already mastered carefully, and don't need as much post processing as local files from recorded TV shows or camcorder files. The low score of the DDR3 based 6450 will probably improve a great deal after driver updates, but we will consider only playback of files on the hard drive in the rest of this review.

HTPC Testbed Custom Refresh Rates
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  • casteve - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    I hope to see a review of the HD 6670, now that (at least) Sapphire has released a passive version. Reply
  • Drae - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    ... it'd be nice to see more use of Linux please. I realise there are a lack of "testing" and "evaluation" tools under Linux but that shouldn't prevent the testing of basic media needs. What's this about no bit streaming support under Linux? Boxee would disagree - as would:

    http://phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?27348-Tr...

    along with XBMC's audioengine (involving work by the guy in the above link). Maybe Windows 8 will sort out the mess that is WMC and all the messing (or bypassing with MPC-HC) that is required to get it working solidly. But right now if you want something that approaches a plug and play media experience XBMC (and its off-spring Openelec) under Linux is a lot closer than Windows. Equally the more coverage such solutions get the more likely greater time will be spent fixing the remaining issues under the Linux OS - hello there Intel and AMD.

    Finally there is a great move now - go look at AVS' fora for examples - away from large media center pc's to small, quiet (silent) systems. These don't require 300W or 500W power supplies and huge cases with twelve fans and fifty million led's. They are ITX based systems sitting in small ITX sized boxes running 65/80/90/120W PicoPSU's with much greater efficiency and thus lower power use/running costs/silence. Placing these discrete cards in such systems would be a nice test of these picopsu units - given the apparently low power draw shown in the articles (something I'm very interested in seeing right now given the poor support of Linux by Intel on Sandybridge - the GT430 would be a good interim solution for me).

    TLDR: Please don't limit yourselves to Windows testing and ATX/mATX sized systems when writing HTPC articles
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Drae, Thanks for the info and the link.

    The issue with Linux HTPCs is the fact that there is a semblance of support from only NVIDIA.

    Don't get me wrong! I am a huge Linux fan, and always prefer free / open-source software. But, from a video perspective, is there a multi-GPU platform similar to DXVA ? Every vendor has their own flavour (NVIDIA - VDPAU / Intel - VA-API / AMD - XvBA). From the audio side, it looks like the link you mention is the only avenue available for bitstreaming, and that too for NVIDIA GPUs only. I will keep close tabs on what is happening in this area, and when the time is right, I will definitely post a piece on Linux HTPCs, considering one card from each of the vendors.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    As always it depends on what you want from an HTPC. For me I want to play Blu rays, stream HD movies from file server, watch and record TV and do some web browsing but in total silence (or as close to as possible).

    For me ITX systems are the way to go using a 150W PICO-pSU but critical is that they have to work with appropriate IR remote (Logitech DiNovo looks interesting)

    I am happy to use Linux or Windows but it just has to work
    Reply
  • alfredska - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    This kind of quality review is what made AnandTech a name to remember early on. I'm glad to see such thoroughness and well thought out presentation of information. Looking forward to more reviews by Ganesh. Reply
  • UrQuan3 - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - link

    Agreed, this is an excelent article. I tried cross referencing to the "Zotec Zbox" article from the 9th (I own an E-350) and the earlier benchmarking was useless. I already know the E-350 won't do full processing, but I wanted to know where it sits compared to these platforms that pull 3-10 times the power.

    Think a 'software mode' might have been useful? An i5 could have done a fair amount of this processing without a hardware assist, saving the 70watts the cards were pulling and avoiding some of the integrated's compatability issues.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    I dont get the video card focus in the realm of HTPC. It seems that software is a far more important piece of the picture than a video card. Windows media center and XBMC both work like crap, and/or are unacceptably slow and clunky when it comes to browsing media. I do NOT tolerate that kind of lag, especially on a 3 ghz quadcore with an ssd/hdd drive setup. I dont expect miracles when trying to browse through a gigabyte of media, but still it should be faster. And then there's audio sync problems that like to appear out of nowhere. But you'd never know any of these problems exist from reading these articles. Shrug.

    I have found that VLC media player and windows explorer are the most reliable combination. But using windows explorer on an htpc is ugly and painful.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I think part of the problem is the degree to which there's news. A thorough review of Media Center might be warranted, the next time it changes, but was pretty thoroughly covered here (http://www.anandtech.com/show/2864/) and here (http://www.anandtech.com/show/2760). XBMC has a more frequent update cycle than Windows, and there's obviously interest so this might be an idea to explore further.

    As far as the difficulties with each of these platforms, a Z68 platform and SRT might be the solution here. So the size of the files is not really the problem, it's that when you browse to a folder the user wants to be able to scroll around the list or grid and have all of the information pertinent to those files readily available. You don't want to scroll over to a file in your West Wing Season 5 folder and wait for the Title to load so you know whether it's the episode you were looking for, you want that information to be up the instant you scroll to it, or even better for it to be glanceable before you even start scrolling. In order to achieve this the OS's load all of the information for all of the files in the folder. So if you have a few dozen files in a folder that's the metadata for each files, the thumbnail preview and then the usual file system queries the OS would do anytime it accesses the drive. That can add up to a lot of small reads, and that leads to that big stall as you scoot around your media.

    Now, the throw money at it solution is move to ALL SSD storage. But I've got 4TB of media and don't have that kind of money to throw at the problem. SRT should help though. If I recall, the metadata and thumbnail files are stored locally in the folder with the files, but since SRT caches the frequently accessed files, then for a system used exclusively for media the only thing that should populate the SSD cache is going to be these small reads that otherwise slow down your system.

    I am suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to get my hands on a Z68 to try this out! And you are quite right that VLC and Windows Explorer are the most reliable programs for browsing and playing back media, but the price you pay for pretty is often performance.
    Reply
  • vailr - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    As an exercise in "possibility thinking", I'd be interested in a sub-category of a complete "solar powered" desktop-format PC review. Designed (theoretically) for someone living in a remote area, off the electrical grid, yet still having internet via satellite, cell phone signal, or otherwise connected. Designed for ultra low power consumption, mostly dependent on solar and/or wind power produced on site. Yet maximal possible performance (under such power restrictions) for either: generic gaming desktop PC, and also for a HTPC. Using SSD's and/or laptop HD's for storage, and with an energy sipping CPU (dual-core Atom vs. Intel i330, for example), combined with either: on-CPU chip video or a "PCIe bus only" powered video card, and yet somewhat viable as a gaming PC or as a HTPC.
    Maybe even qualify for an article in Home Power magazine? http://homepower.com
    Reply
  • Penti - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Why? Running a 100 W PC of batteries is pretty pointless.

    Just install FTTH and a powerline if you like to game or do other intensive tasks needing GPU-power, fast cpus or ridiculous amounts of memory (workstation type stuff). It would be the most efficient solution any way. You don't even need any power for any modems. You certainly can run a PC of battery power off grid, but why destroy your work with that. It would be hard to store much electrical power.

    Otherwise you would pretty much had to get by with a low-powered laptop. No monitor.

    Do the unabomber type guys need any gaming? If so they need to install a good damn power line or at least a diesel-generator. They don't have the money and skills to build energy storage and buy panels thats enough to power a modern home any way.
    Reply

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